Break­ing down the Leafs and Cap­i­tals, po­si­tion by po­si­tion,

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - KEVIN MCGRAN SPORTS RE­PORTER

AR­LING­TON, VA.— Daniel Win­nik wasn’t sur­prised his crafty-ex coach, Mike Bab­cock, tried to make it sound like all the pres­sure was on the Washington Cap­i­tals.

Caps coach Barry Trotz said Bab­cock was merely “play­ing” the me­dia. And no one on the Cap­i­tals ac­cepts that the weight of ex­pec­ta­tions are too high for the Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy win­ners.

If mind games counted in the se­ries, the Maple Leafs might be up 1-0 be­cause the Cap­i­tals spent a lot of time re­act­ing to Bab­cock’s com­ments about how pres­sure can get to the favourites.

“That’s what they’ve done in Toronto since Mike got there is tem­per ex­pec­ta­tions,” Win­nik said Thurs­day. “I wouldn’t ex­pect them to say any­thing less. I find a lot of that stuff is me­dia nar­ra­tive to cre­ate a sto­ry­line for the se­ries. I don’t think here as a group we feel that pres­sure that ev­ery­one is talk­ing about.”

Maybe so, but even Trotz got into it, ac­knowl­edg­ing the many and var­i­ous ways the Cap­i­tals have dis­ap­pointed them­selves and their fans by crash­ing out early in the play­offs in re­cent years but adding things are dif­fer­ent this year.

“We had pres­sure the last cou­ple years, and that’s been com­mon here,” Trotz said. “I think we’re way bet­ter with it. I lis­tened to Babs’ com­ments, he’s play­ing you guys with that, but I think we can un­der­stand that.

“We ex­pect our­selves to do well, that’s the ex­pec­ta­tion that we put on our­selves. I don’t think that’s go­ing to change. I think we’re way more pre­pared for that, maybe than we were last year.”

As for the pres­sure, well there’s plenty of that to go around, says de­fence­man Kevin Shat­tenkirk.

“It’s the play­offs. It’s the Stan­ley Cup,” said Shat­tenkirk. “If you don’t feel any pres­sure at this point of the year, I don’t think you’re hu­man. It’s good. You wel­come that pres­sure.”

The talk in Washington isn’t if the Cap­i­tals will beat the Maple Leafs, but how many games it will take. Few here think longer than six. The Cap­i­tals fin­ished higher, beat the Leafs two out of three games this sea­son, are health­ier with John Carl­son ex­pected back in the lineup while To- ronto will be with­out Nikita Zait­sev.

Then there’s this: Cap­i­tals play­ers have 1,017 play­off games to their credit. The Leafs, 292. And up to 10 Leafs will make their NHL play­offs de­but.

“We have to re­spect them,” said for­ward Tom Wil­son. “They’re a fast, skilled team. If you don’t take care of the puck and play the right way, they’re go­ing to eat you alive.”

The Cap­i­tals have lost a se­ries in seven games six times. And the weight of his­tory fol­lows the team around. The Leafs, neatly, have set them­selves up as a pos­si­ble Cin­derella story.

“We’ve had a tar­get on our ch­ests for pretty much two sea­sons now,” Wil­son said. “We’ve got to get the job done no mat­ter what the seeding is.”

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